To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another. ~Katherine Paterson
Panic. I think panic lives in my throat, because that is where I feel it first. My neck gets tight and my throat starts to feel like there is an invisible vice around it, prepared to tighten if I don't get it under control. Then come the spine tingles. They prick in the back of my neck, and the bottom of my spine, and then slowly fill in the space between. Fight, flight, or freeze. Sympathetic nervous system overload. Clammy hands, cold sweat, the rushing noise in my ears, they all pile on the panic train and start pushing it over the hill until my stomach feels like its dropping to my toes. Have you ever tried to move quickly when your stomach is in your feet? And I haven't felt panic in so long until it sprang upon me again last night. It was almost funny how the feelings were coming over me and a separate section of my brain was going, "What is this? It's kind've familiar. I've gone through this before. Oh, yeah. I remember now. PANIC!"
I've been doing exceptionally well since Little Bear was born. Considering its been a whole year and change since I stopped taking my anxiety medication, I have been pretty optimistic with how even and level my feelings have been. I've even managed short trips with my entire brood alone, and have yet to feel anything close to that crippling day in June 3 years ago when I couldn't make myself get out of the car for fear we would all be killed in the parking lot. Maybe it helps that I'm more cautious now, more prone to asking for assistance or for someone to come with me that has been helping. Or even that I seem to have slowly developed the ability to force back and tune out the anxious thoughts of death, separation, and disaster to a dull hum in the back of my mind, instead of letting them break through and dominate my thoughts. Or maybe Little Bear just found the reset button while he was in there and I got a free system restore for all the trouble he's put us through.
Either way, last night started out well. I went out shopping with Monkey for an Easter dress for her, since the store had them for 50% off. I even left Scootch and Little Bear at home with Daddy so she could have some undivided attention. I figured this would be a piece of cake, going out with the oldest. She's not allergic to anything, doesn't need to have her diaper changed. And we did have fun. She ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the prom dresses that were in the adult section, got giddy and giggly around the plethora of lace and flowers that adorned the dresses in her size, had a ball spinning the skirts out in the dressing room in front of the mirror, and even managed to put back the matching purse, hat, gloves, and headband she wanted without too much of an arguement. And I'm sure it was only 5 minutes of the entire excursion that went awry. 5 minutes that made me realize how matter how much I think I'm doing good, this will always be with me. As long as I'm living and breathing, I have the potential to freak out over my kids.
After checking out, we were walking towards the doors when something in my size got my attention and we went over to investigate. I let go of Monkey's hand to see the price and she walked away from me, around to the other side of the rack. I didn't think anything of it. I was done, turned around, and she wasn't there. I bent down to look underneath the clothes, since she likes to hide inside the clothing racks like I did when I was little (you know that curse from your mother about having a kid JUST LIKE YOU?), but I didn't see any legs under there. Checked the surrounding racks, and nothing. At this point I was still at annoyance level. So I called her. Twice. And nothing. Tried again, lifting my voice up so she could hear me over the larger part of the section we were in. Nothing. No "What, Mom?", no giggle because she's hiding, no feet running in my direction, and no helpful stranger telling me "She ran past this way." So I walked the length of the 5 aisles in the section scanning each one, hoping to spot strawberry curls, or a red jacket. Still calling her name, and still nothing. There is doubt at first. Am I sure I didn't see her? Maybe she's just hiding in another rack? I go back to the beginning to check again. No Monkey. And that's when it starts, the panic feeling in my throat. The irritation eroding and being replaced by that imaginary vice. I'm scanning the store as my throat is tightening. No Monkey. I'm feeling spine tingles as I take to inspecting other people in the area, looking for someone trying to hide a little girl under their arm as they bolt from the store. Still No Monkey. I'm jogging as the cold sweat breaks out, moving through clothing racks, weaving through people. I can't even tell you what I'm seeing, except that it's not the one thing my eyes are looking for. One final time before my throat closes up I yell her name again. Heartbeat. Silence. Heartbeat. What do I do? Heartbeat. But then there she is, popping out of an aisle and running straight at me. I'm grabbing her as she's chattering about some pretty shirt with sparkly flowers on it that she wants me to see. I don't care about the shirt, I care about her not coming to me when I called her, or at least saying something in response when I was yelling her name. I'm trying to cool down, and I'm trying to not scare her by squeezing her so tight I disrupt her air flow. My hands are still shaking a little, but the sound of my heartbeat is finally draining away from in my ears. I take her hand again. "I want to show you the shirt, Mom," and she's leading me away.
We go see the shirt. We get in the car. The whole way home I try to explain that if she wanders too far and doesn't answer my call I get scared because I can't find her. I try to practice with her what she should say if she ever hears me yelling her name. That I can yell for her for another reason besides the fact that she's in trouble. "Okay, Mom" is all she says. Okay. We're okay. I'm okay. It will probably happen again, but it should be okay.
But in the meantime, she damn well better learn to come when I call.